As people age their bodies go through a lot of changes physically as well as psychologically. As humans age normally they undergo changes in their brain which affect cognitive functioning and development. Each person is different so the age-related changes in the structure of the brain and in its function as well as in cognition and cognitive domains are not uniform across the whole brain, nor are the uniform across individuals. This means that some of the changes that a person goes through due to aging another person may not experience. The two basic cognitive functions that are affected most by a person aging is attention and memory (Glisky, 2007). The thing that a person needs to know is that memory and attention are not unitary functions; there are multiple parts to both functions some of which may not be affected by a person aging while others are affected. According to the Glisky (2007), perception in a person as the person ages declines due to declining sensory capacities which can impact the cognitive functions later in a person. Perception is a person’s senses such as touch, sight, taste, and smells which is why some people believe that it is actually a precognition function.
According to Anderson (2010), perception is the sensory experience of the world around individuals which involve recognition of environmental stimuli as well as actions in response to the stimuli. What this means is that as a person goes through life they recognize things such as sounds, smells, people, etc. and they react accordingly to these things based on their perceptions of them. When this function starts to decline with a person’s age the person starts to lose the ability to recognize things. Attention is a basic cognitive process but a complex one that has multiple sub-processes for different aspects of attention processes (Glisky, 2007). Attention is involved in almost all of the other cognitive domains in some way or another, up until a person starts to preform automatic or habitual behaviors. Up until the time a person is completely tasks or behaviors that have become habit, such as knowing how much milk to put into a person’s coffee, then attention is involved in nearly all aspects. This means that as a person starts to age and their attention begins to decline there are broad-reaching effects that take place to a person’s ability to function efficiently and adequately in daily life (Glisky, 2007).
Of attention divided attention has shown to have a significant decline in performance when linked with a person’s increase of age, especially when the tasks people are being asked to complete become more complex. According to Anderson (2010), as adults age significant impairments become apparent on their attentional tasks especially those requiring the person to divide or switch attention among different tasks or multiple inputs. While older adults tend to be slower on performance tasks then younger adults they are not impaired by distraction being able to maintain concentration for a concentrated period of time. According to Anderson (2010), older adults tend to show impairment on task which requires flexible control of attention, a cognitive function associated with the frontal lobes of the brain. What this means that if a person has to have attention divided among two or more processes or the person needs to switch attention from one thing to another in older adults this function may become more impaired and less easy for the older adults to perform. A task like driving which requires the person to have attention focused on several different things becomes difficult for the adult to perform adequately.
Memory is another process of cognitive functioning that may become impaired as a person gets older. According to Glisky (2007), memory is a multidimensional cognitive construct that is believed to be a fundamental source of age-related deficits in a variety of cognitive tasks such as long-term memory LTM, problem-solving, language, and decision making. All of these tasks are listed under working memory which is a limited capacity system that is relatively short-term and is responsible for active manipulation of information being maintained currently in attention. This means that working memory is taking the information that a person has at attention and processing the information into a short limited memory while the person needs it. Tasks such as making decisions, solving problems, and even the process of planning behaviors to achieve goals are all tasks that may be affected by aging as a person finds it’s harder to actively manipulate and organize information in working memory.
According to Glisky (2007), aging specifically affects episodic memory, or more specifically events or experiences from a person’s past. Memories of past events though the person believes that they are fully intact may actually just be general core information but lacks in details of the event or experience that took place. Additionally, processes like encoding and retrieval of memory, or context of information, demands attentional resources that may be lacking. An older adult might find that they are unable to process information into memory, having a harder time retrieving things from memory, and are unable to process context of memory such as if they read it somewhere or were a part of the actual event. The aging process of a person impacts the person’s cognitive abilities greatly.
Age-related changes though not universal among every person may affect a person’s cognitive functioning and domains greatly. Deficits and declines happen during the aging process in individuals which accounts for the slowed or impaired processes in older individuals. Much of the cognitive functioning that has been studied and shows decline is in attention and memory of individuals. The thing that a person needs to know is that memory and attention are not unitary functions; there are multiple parts to both functions some of which may not be affected by a person aging while others are affected. There is still much information that needs to be studied for a better understanding into the cognitive processes as they relate to aging.
Anderson, J. R. (2010). Cognitive psychology and its implications (7th ed.). New York, NY: Worth Publishers Glisky, E. (2007). Brain Aging: Models, Methods, and Mechanisms.. Bethesda, MD: Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.